Why can't a woman earn more like a man?
Two things happened in short succession this week, both of which led to me writing this post.
But first, we’ve got to go back. Back to when the Professional Copywriters’ Network revealed the results of their 2017 survey. Including a 29% gender pay gap that’ll make you wince.
I wrote about this gap last year, when the 2016 survey put said gap at a sadly similar 28%. My take was that freelancing offered me more potential earnings than full-time, period.
Things have changed since then. I'm back in a full-time job. Surprise! At first it was because no steady job = no Japanese working visa, but I'm pleased to say I enjoy what I do.
Am I paid as much as I want to be? Still, the answer to that is 'not quite, no'. The exchange rate isn't helping, and nor is comparing what I'd get paid for an equivalent job back in England.
So I was thinking about that. Then, 2 other things happened.
Just you wait, 'enry 'iggins, just you wait
Firstly, I spotted that Andy Maslen had written a response to the pay gap for PCN.
It pains me that the first person to substantially respond to the survey's findings like this wasn't female. Why aren't we talking about this more, ladies? Why is there such a screaming blank space where our discussion should be? PCN's own Twitter chat on the subject was good, but the conversation seemed to end there.
Why am I writing this 3 and a half weeks after the 2017 survey results came out (hands up, guilty as charged)... and still apparently the first woman to do so?
Helpful as I'm sure Andy's piece was intended to be, the self-promotion – framed as advice to copywriters who are already struggling to improve their incomes – was less so. “Not making enough money? Why not pay me another £176 + VAT up front and see if that helps.”
Sorry, Sir, but this isn't the time or place.
I also want to give you my take on the 'professional' section of that post at some point, but this isn't the time or place either.
Client accounts, and accountability
The second thing that came along was a timely e-newsletter from Harriet Minter. If you haven’t subscribed to Proceed Until Apprehended, or listened to the Badass Women’s Hour podcast (what a name), I strongly urge you to. I doubt you'll regret doing either.
This week, Harriet told us a tale of her own freelance pricing gone awry. She was taken aside by the client – also a woman – and told that she wasn’t charging enough. Can you imagine? Nothing short of divine intervention, that.
The rest of the email carried on into positive, nudging advice (primarily for women) on being paid what you’re worth. Interestingly, it twisted the issue back on clients in the process.
Are employers and agencies willingly coughing up more for a man, and then turning a blind eye to the disparity? Last year, I cited 'how much companies are willing to pay' as a stumbling block on my path to earning more. I wish I hadn't seen that block as so immovable.
We damn freelance copywriters with ‘you set your own rates, so it’s your own fault’. Where’s the accountability from clients that aren’t playing fair with their freelancer pool? And why the hell wasn't I asking that question last year?
I would love - LOVE - for Harriet's anecdote to be part of a sea change in the way employers think about their freelancers. Hoping to see the difference in next year's survey results.
You take the high quote, and they'll take the low quote
One other thing. Something I never thought I'd say, but here I go.
There’s long been lots of talk in the copywriter community about the ‘race to the bottom’ in pricing. Sites like People Per Hour and Fiverr do more harm than good. (So much so that I'm not even including URLs there.) They skew client perceptions of what writers are worth, and they encourage undercutting.
“Put your rates up!” is good general advice. Most of us do need to, and it’s wise to evaluate your rates every so often anyway. But in our focus on charging ‘enough’, we’ve missed something else that's really important.
How much is too much?
You can't proofread with pound signs in your eyes
Your clients aren't cashpoints. They might well pay more if you ask nicely... or try bluffing it. They might also pay more for a man – whether they realise they’re doing it or not. That doesn’t make them sitting suckers to be parted from their budget.
The route to greater success is not to just charge a shedload more than usual and hope for the best. The copywriter who brags about their inflated rate is doing as much damage as the copywriter who’s churning out ‘content’ for less than minimum wage.
Be reasonable. Value yourself more, and be fair to yourself and your clients in the process. Charge what you’re worth (which is more than you think), and not just the highest number you reckon you can get away with.
Do your research. If you’re charging half the going rate for the work you do, then it makes sense to double it. If you’re charging a third, triple it. That’s logical. Drastically upping your rates solely to make more money isn’t.
Do I have any other advice for you? You bet I do. Some of this remains my advice from last year, because clearly, with a 1% pay gap increase, it's still relevant.
Go on, increase your rates (once you’ve researched some more). But not two-fold, not straight off the bat. Go up £50 or £75. I dare you. Existing clients aren’t likely to kick up a fuss. After all, they’ve come back. Making gradual increases is great for confidence-building. Better than suddenly pulling a much higher number out of a hat and feeling way out of your depth.
Ask other copywriters what they’re earning, and tell them what you earn. I’m serious. This is information that's better shared. Pick people at a similar experience level to you. Get into a discussion at the next #copywritersunite event, or send private messages if you’d prefer. It’ll be an eye-opener for everyone involved.
If you have a PPH or Fiverr account or similar, delete it. Today. Without knowing your name or experience level, I can tell you right now that you're worth more than £5 per project. End it. And if you're part of the 7% of writers charging by the word - cut that out right now.
And a memo to clients: here’s what Harriet had to say about doing your bit.
“We all want a good deal, but if you’re looking at your budgets and find that the majority of your money is going to the guys then it might be time to give the women around you the heads up.”
Why can't a woman earn more like a man? We can, you know. And we should. And we will.